Alabama senate approves a near total ban on abortion

Alabama's senate passed a near-total ban on abortion Tuesday, sending what would be the nation's most stringent abortion law to the state's Republican governor.

Legislation makes performing an abortion at any stage a felony

Margeaux Hartline, dressed as a handmaid, during a rally against a near-total ban on abortion bill, outside of the Alabama State House in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday. The state senate passed the bill Tuesday evening making abortion at any stage a felony. (Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser/Associated Press)

Alabama's senate passed a near-total ban on abortion Tuesday, sending what would be the nation's most stringent abortion law to the state's Republican governor.

The Republican-dominated Alabama state senate voted 25-6 for the bill that would make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison. The only exception would be when the woman's health is at serious risk.

The measure now goes to Gov. Kay Ivey, who has not said whether she supports the measure.

Supporters said the bill is intentionally designed to conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationally, because they hope to spark a court case that might prompt the justices to revisit abortion rights.

"The question for me — for us — is: When is a person a person?" Republican Sen. Clyde Chambliss said as debate began on the proposed ban.

Senators rejected an attempt to add an exception for rape and incest. The amendment was voted down 21-11, with four Republicans joining Democrats in the seeking the amendment.

"You don't care anything about babies having babies in this state, being raped and incest," Democratic Sen. Bobby Singleton said angrily after the amendment's defeat. "You just aborted the state of Alabama with your rhetoric with this bill."

"Our bill says that baby in the womb is a person," said Republican Rep. Terri Collins, who sponsored the bill.

Rep. Terri Collins answers questions during debate on the abortion ban bill at the Alabama State House on April 30. Collins sponsored the bill, with hopes it eventually ends up in front of the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court. (Mickey Welsh/Montgomery Advertiser/AP)

She and other supporters had argued exemptions would weaken their hope of creating a vehicle to challenge Roe.

Emboldened by conservative justices who have joined the Supreme Court, abortion opponents in several states are seeking to challenge abortion access. Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy.

This is nothing but a political game and women are the pawns- Staci Fox, CEO and President of Planned Parenthood Southeast

There would be no punishment for the woman receiving the abortion, only for the abortion provider.

Singleton said the bill "criminalizes doctors" and is an attempt by men "to tell women what to do with their bodies."

Sen. Bobby Singleton accused his fellow lawmakers of not caring about babies having babies. (Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser/Associated Press)

The text of the bill likens abortion to history's greatest atrocities, including the Holocaust.

A crowd of about 50 people held a rally outside the Alabama Statehouse, chanting, "Whose choice? Our choice."

Several women dressed as characters from Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which depicts a dystopian future where fertile women are forced to breed.

"This is nothing but a political game and women are the pawns," Staci Fox, CEO and President of Planned Parenthood Southeast. "Let's be honest, banning abortion does not stop abortion. It stops safe and legal abortion."

Unclear if governor will sign bill

Less than two kilometres from the Alabama Statehouse — down the street from the governor's mansion — sits Montgomery's only abortion clinic. Because of its location, the clinic sees a stream of patients from Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle because other clinics have closed.

Clinic escorts wearing rainbow-coloured vests use oversized blue umbrellas to shield patients from a sidewalk protester who shouts at women entering and exiting the clinic.

If signed into law by Ivey, who is generally a strong opponent of abortion, the bill would take effect in six months. Critics have promised a swift lawsuit. Randall Marshall, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said a complaint is being drafted to challenge the ban.

With a file from Reuters